The big picture: United’s Dreamliner exits paint hangar

United’s first B787 Dreamliner rolled out of the paint hangar at Boeing’s Everett facility in Washington early this morning, revealing the carrier’s new livery, complete with its golden ‘swoop’ (see online news July 10).

The event was broadcast live online at unitedhub.com, with a pre-show featuring United’s signature theme, George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.

Business Traveller captured the images below during the event.

United is scheduled to take delivery of its first Dreamliner in September, before putting it into service on as-yet-undisclosed routes this autumn.

The carrier has confirmed its new route between Denver and Tokyo will be served with the B787 when it launches in spring 2013.

United’s first Dreamliner aircraft will be configured with 36 seats in United BusinessFirst, 72 seats in Economy Plus and 111 seats in economy. The carrier has recently installed a full-flight simulator at its Houston hub and is training pilots to operate the aircraft.

For more information visit united.com, and for our comprehensive guide to the Dreamliner, with details and images of current and forthcoming B787 operators, click here.

Centara to reach 100 properties by 2017

Thai hotel group Centara says it aims to add more than 45 properties to its portfolio over the next five years, with the possibility of adding hotels in the Middle East and Europe.

The group currently operates 55 hotels and resorts, mainly located in Thailand but with selected destinations in the Maldives, Vietnam, the Philippines, Bali, Mauritius and Sri Lanka.

Centara says it aims to reach 100 properties by 2017, with its growth strategy focusing on “the main tourism destinations and gateway cities in Asia”.

But the group says it is also “very interested in the possibility of expanding into the Middle East and gateway cities in Europe”.

Centara will open its first property in the Chinese city of Shanghai next year, with further expansion into China planned. The group says it is also “looking towards some of the newly opening countries, such as Myanmar”.

The group operates hotels under its upmarket Centara Hotels and Resorts, and Centara Grand Hotels and Resorts brands, as well as the four-star Centra offering, with an economy brand set to be launched later this year.

For more information visit centarahotelsresorts.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

Starwood to open world’s largest Sheraton

Starwood is set to open its largest ever Sheraton hotel this September, a 3,863-room property within the Sands Cotai Central complex in Macau.

The Sheraton Macau Hotel Cotai Central will also become the largest hotel in the Chinese special administrative region.

Features include over 20,000sqm of meeting space – with the pillarless Kashgar Grand Ballroom accommodating up to 5,265 people theatre-style – as well as Sine Spa with 15 treatment rooms, and three outdoor pools with 12,000sqm of deck space.

Food and beverage outlets include Italian trattoria Bene, two poolside cafes, a roof lounge, and signature Asian seafood restaurant Xin.

The hotel forms part of the Sands Cotai Central resort complex, which also features the world’s largest Holiday Inn and Conrad properties – see online news March 26 for more information.

When fully completed the complex will offer around 6,000 rooms, as well as casinos, convention space, retail outlets, entertainment and dining options.

Visit starwoodhotels.com.

Report by Mark Caswell

Typhoon Saola approaching eastern Taiwan

Cathay Pacific (CX) and Dragonair (KA) just announced that they expect disruption for their services to and from Taipei and Taichung from tomorrow (August 1) afternoon through to Thursday (August 2), as typhoon Saola is approaching eastern Taiwan. However, both carriers expect operation to and from Taipei and Taichung to remain normal for today and tomorrow morning.

CX and KA encourage passengers who are booked on flights to, from or via Taipei or Taichung departing between the afternoon of August 1 to 2 to either advance or postpone non-essential travel. Both carriers will waive re-booking and re-routing charges for all tickets issued worldwide, irrespective of fare type, on or before July 31 for travel on KA or CX to, from or via Taipei or Taichung between August 1 and 2.

Note that waiving charges for booking alterations is a preventative measure for expected disruption, a KA spokesperson emphasised. In case of actual flight disruptions, she continued, KA will arrange other measures for affected passengers depending on the situation.

CX and KA both advised passengers to check the latest flight information on the airlines’ websites before departing for the airport, as the flight status may change as the situation develops. Both carriers will continue to monitor the typhoon’s course and will issue further updates should there be any changes to the flight schedule.

For more information, visit www.cathaypacific.com and www.dragonair.com.

Michelle Fong

Easyjet to make allocated seating decision in the autumn

Easyjet will make a decision in the autumn on whether to introduce allocated seating across its network.

The no-frills airline began trialling allocated seating in April on 16 routes including seven from Luton and four Glasgow services (see online news May 5).

Easyjet chief executive Carolyn McCall said the airline would assess the success of the allocated seating trial at the end of August after the peak summer travel season.

“Early indications are positive, but until I get to the end of August, I will not really want to commit on whether this is going to go ahead or not,” she said.

“We need to really make sure operationally – when we have very high load factors in the 90s – that we can deliver it on time.”

McCall added that Easyjet would not roll out allocated seating if it caused a decline in the airline’s on-time performance.

“The most important thing for us is to get the returns right and to get on-time performance right,” she said. “If we can do that and remain as efficient as we are, then it will be worth doing. But if we can’t do that, it won’t be worth doing – even if our passengers love it.”

Easyjet also said that it was still putting the “building blocks” in place to attract more business travellers.

“They’re still not all in place; the Amadeus technology doesn’t come on stream until the end of December,” said McCall. “They are doing particular technology for Easyjet to be more accessible on Amadeus. That takes a year so they started that when we signed the contract in January.”

“We’re increasing our share of business in a tough market and we are seeing some trading down where people are being much more cost conscious on business travel in Europe.”

For more information visit easyjet.com.

Report by Rob Gill

This report was originally published on Business Traveller‘s sister website abtn.co.uk.

Avis Preferred rewards loyalty

Avis has improved its Preferred loyalty programme in Europe by adding benefits for members including free car hire, complimentary upgrades and free second driver cover.

The new three-tiered scheme looks to build upon the speed of service already offered, with benefits including priority service in branch, a dedicated membership telephone line and a three-minute promise, which guarantees customers their keys and rental agreement within three minutes of arriving at the branch.

Additional benefits for members now include money off vouchers and exclusive offers, such as a worldwide single upgrade voucher following their second booking, and free car hire for the weekend in Europe with their third booking. After five rentals and a minimum spend of €1,000 over a 12-month period members can take advantage of complimentary upgrades and free second driver cover.

Customers who rent ten times or more and spend a minimum of €2,000 within a 12-month period will become an Avis Preferred First Plus member, which entitles them to a guaranteed single upgrade at airports and railway stations, double upgrade on weekends upon availability and free additional driver and car guarantee if a reservation is made at least 48 hours in advance.

Kaye Cellie, managing director of Avis UK, said: “Our Avis Preferred scheme was all about speed of service and whilst this is still a key priority we wanted to recognise loyal customers with additional benefits for multiple rentals.

“Other loyalty schemes require that customers complete ten or even 20 rentals before they receive practical offers. By contrast, the Avis loyalty scheme rewards both leisure and corporate customers from their second rental.” 

These benefits are currently only available in Great Britain, Switzerland and Germany but are planned to be rolled out across Europe.

For more information visit avis.co.uk.

Report by Scott Carey

Starwood’s first dual-branded ski resort opens in China

Starwood has opened the doors of its first dual-branded ski resort complex – which is located in Changbaishan, China and includes The Westin Changbaishan and Sheraton Changbaishan Resort – on July 29.

The property is located next to the slopes of the Changbai Mountains, which is one of China’s leading ski areas. Situated in Jilin province, Changbaishan is a mountain range that borders Russia and North Korea, and it is home to a 494,000-acre UNESCO nature reserve. The Tianchi (Heavenly Lake), a vast lake that forms the source of three rivers, is located nearby. The area is also famous for its powdery snow, trails surrounded by pine forests and hot springs.

The resort complex is near Yingfu Expressway, Changbaishan Airport and the biggest ski field in Asia – which has room for 8,000 skiers with its 43 ski lanes.

“The two resorts are joined by a bridge, and guests staying at any of the two enjoy access to the public areas of the other. They also have use of both resorts’ facilities, such as lobby lounges and swimming pool.” said Johnny Mathis, managing director of The Westin Changbaishan Resort and Sheraton Changbaishan Resort.

There are over 3437 sqm of function and meeting space, including a 1241-sqm ballroom, nine smaller meeting rooms and a pre-function area, as well as six eateries.

The Westin Changbaishan Resort offers expansive mountain views, a Westin Kids Club, a spa and an indoor swimming pool. All 262 rooms are equipped with signature bed, bath and shower amenities. There is also high-speed Internet access and a workspace in every room. Guests can also ski directly into the hotel lobby. The Seasonal Tastes restaurant features an interactive cooking show, while Maru is the first Korean restaurant of any Starwood property.

The 297-room Sheraton Changbaishan Resort provides mountain or ski views. All rooms provide guests with an oversized work desk, custom-designed ergonomic chair, high-speed internet access, LCD flat panel television, iPhone/iPad docking station and a signature bed. There are also fitness facilities and a Sheraton Club lounge. The Feast restaurant features an open kitchen, whereas the Chinese restaurant Yue has emphasis on Cantonese cuisine.

The new resort complex indicates Starwood’s commitment to expand in China, said Stephen Ho, president, Asia Pacific, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide. China is both the brand’s fastest growing global market and richest source of loyal travellers, he continued.

In line with the brand’s aggressive expansion plan, Starwood plan to open 15 hotels in China by the end of 2012 (see story here).

Click here for a review of other ski resorts in Asia.

For more information, visit www.starwoodhotels.com.

Michelle Fong

Doubletree by Hilton opens in Shenyang

Doubletree by Hilton opened its 11th property in China – Doubletree by Hilton Shenyang – on July 28. The 389-room hotel has 25 suites, two restaurants, a lobby lounge, a 24-metre heated indoor swimming pool, a fitness club and a spa.

Located 15 kilometres from Shenyang Taoxian International Airport and less than seven kilometres from the North Railway Station, the hotel is close to the largest wholesale market in Northeast China, Wu’ai Merchandise Wholesale Market. Travellers enjoy convenient access to the city centre and many local attractions, including the Liaoning Provincial Museum, Shenyang Imperial Palace and Middle Street.

Room sizes range from 36 to 43 sqm. All rooms feature a separate work area with high-speed Internet access, a flat-screen TV, bathroom with shower and bathtub, and Crabtree & Evelyn bath amenities. The 25 suites are 80 to 120 sqm, which gives a home-like ambiance in addition to access to the executive lounge. All rooms offer views of the city. 

The hotel also features an array of dining options, including all-day restaurant Elements and Chinese restaurant Yi Yuan. There is also 2,400 sqm of meeting and banquet space that can accommodate up to 1,200 guests, including a pillar-less grand ballroom and 18 meeting rooms.

“Shenyang is one of the most important bases for heavy industry in China. Due to its rapidly growing economy, rich culture and active commerce, it attracts many visitors from around the world and we are excited to enter this booming market,” said Martin Rinck, president, Asia-Pacific, Hilton Worldwide.

For a list of Hilton hotels in China, click here

Doubletree by Hilton Shenyang marks the entry of Hilton’s third brand in Northeast China, following Hilton and Conrad Dalian earlier this year (see story here).

For more information, visit www.shenyang.doubletreebyhilton.com

Michelle Fong

ANZ to open Star Alliance lounge at LAX

Air New Zealand is set to move from Terminal 2 to the Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles airport in early 2014.

As part of the move the carrier will design and operate a new Star Alliance lounge at the terminal, which will be available to eligible ANZ passengers departing the airport, as well as travellers with eight Star Alliance partner airlines including Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines.

Transit passengers flying on services NZ1 and NZ2 with Air New Zealand will no longer be restricted to the existing transit lounge, but will be able to clear customs and then make use of the new Star Alliance facility.

An upgrade project at the Tom Bradley International Terminal will see 18 new gates and a new dining and retail space added over the next two years, which will accommodate 30 per cent more passengers per hour.

The new Star Alliance lounge will be three times the size of ANZ’s existing facility at Terminal 2, and will feature an outdoor terrace with views over the northern runway towards Hollywood.

Air New Zealand connects in Los Angeles on flights NZ1 and NZ2 to and from London Heathrow and Auckland.

Last week the carrier announced plans to revamp its logo and livery, adapting its tailfin design from the current blue and green tones to an all-black colouring (see online news July 24).

For more information visit airnewzealand.co.uk.

Report by Mark Caswell

Singapore’s Changi T1 more user-friendly after renovation

At a celebratory ceremony on July 18 (see more here and here), the 30-year-old Singapore Changi Airport Terminal One (T1) revealed the aesthetic elements, as well as improved functionality resulting from a four-year renovation project. Business Traveller was invited to the event and given the opportunity to inspect the upgraded facility. Together with T2, renovated in 2006, and T3, which opened in 2008, the entire airport now features optimum services to facilitate seamless passenger processing.

About S$500 million (US$400 million) was spent on the renovations, and a total of 22,000 sqm was added to the terminal. In order to accomodate an increase in the volume of traffic, various upgrades were made to existing facilities.

Among the passenger-flow improvements is faster immigration. The counters, which remain at the previous number of 18, have been brought together in the centralised immigration zone.

Car drop-off has also been made easier at T1. There are now more taxi bays, and a 204-metre long canopy has been installed at the kerbside of departure check-in hall to provide more shelter and space for cars to stop.

The viewing deck area has also been expanded, and free wifi has been installed throughout the terminal. There is also more room for passengers to navigate or rest their feet with the enlarged walkway and gate holdrooms.

The new T1 also offers over 110 shopping and culinary options to suit even the most discerning customer. Altogether, the three terminals provide 300 food and beverage and retail outlets, which ensure passenger satisfaction. There are more entertainment facilities that cater to families, individuals and group travellers as well. 

It’s not just the hardware that has improved. Passengers with queries no longer need to search around for a service counter here, as there are 90 staff members in eye-catching uniforms all around the terminals, each equipped with an iPad to promptly provide any assistance and information to aid their journey.

Changi Airport officials will not stop with these enhancements. They have plans of converting an existing open-air car park into a mixed-use complex, which allows areas of T1, such as the baggage claim hall, arrival hall and taxi bays, to be increased.

Changi will also be adding a fouth terminal in the near future (see story here).

For more information, visit www.changiairport.com.

Delia Yin